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8.10 Avoid archaic language

See 8.10 of the Checklist »

Archaic words are those that belong to an earlier period and are no longer in common use (eg, aforesaid, beforementioned, hereinafter, and heretofore).

Archaic language may also include old-fashioned grammar rules. These are rules that are mostly redundant.

Archaic words

Avoiding archaic words helps to keep the words we use familiar to our readers. It also contributes to a professional, helpful, and engaging tone (rather than an old-fashioned, pretentious tone).

Some writers often use archaic words to appear clever or show off their “elegant” writing style. Sometimes writers use archaic words out of a misplaced sense of tradition or convention. But plain language is less about the writer and more about the readers. It’s about writing clearly so that readers can easily understand the message.

Apart from being outdated, today the meanings of archaic words can be unclear or imprecise.

For that reason, you should avoid Latin phrases by using the modern English equivalent (eg, use “in good faith” rather than “bona fide”).

In rare cases when drafting legislation, you may need to retain a term that is no longer in common use with ordinary readers. This may be because the term has a technical common law meaning that is difficult to translate precisely (eg, non est factum). In addition, you may need to keep using a term for consistency. For example, if you are amending an Act about “chattels”, you may not be able to refer to “goods”. But consider whether it is feasible to maintain consistency by replacing all of the archaic terms (eg, by replacing all the references to “chattels” with “goods”).

You should remove an archaic term or replace it with a modern plain language equivalent if possible. In some cases, where an archaic word is superfluous, you can delete it.  The following examples demonstrate how this can be done without changing the meaning of the sentence:

Example 1
cross.gif No food whatsoever is permitted in the car.
tick.gif No food is permitted in the car.

In this example, the archaic term adds nothing to the meaning of the sentence.

The words “respectively”, “namely”, and “altogether” are other examples of words that are often superfluous because they add nothing to the meaning of a sentence.

Example 2
cross.gif All property vests in the relict.
tick.gif All property vests in the surviving spouse or partner.
Example 3
cross.gif The mortgage is a charge over all goods, chattels, and personal property, and also over all such lands, messuagestenementshereditaments, houses, and buildings, whatsoever held or vested in the mortgagor.
tick.gif The mortgage is a charge over all of the mortgagor’s property.

Other examples

In the following table, suggested alternative words and phrases appear in bold text. Not all alternatives are synonyms for the archaic word or phrase. There may be other words that may work better in the context or you could consider recasting or omitting. Recasting may involve changing the narrative in the provision.

Examples of archaic words and phrasesAlternatives
abovementioned Recast or omit
the [item] [referred to/set out] in
accordingly Recast or omit
aforementioned Recast or omit
the [item] [referred to/set out] in
aforesaid the [item] [referred to/set out] in
amidst Recast
amid
amongst among / between
at this point in time now
beforementioned Recast or omit
the [item] [referred to/set out] in
by reason of because
duly Recast or omit
foregoing Recast or omit
previous / earlier
forthwith immediately / promptly / at once  
fullness  (in the fullness of time) in time / eventually 
grievous hurtful / serious
hence from here on / as a result
henceforth Recast or omit
from here on
hereafter Recast or omit
after [X] from now on  
herein Recast or omit
in [X]
hereinafter Recast or omit
after [X] / from now on
hereinbefore Recast or omit
before [X] / before now
hereto Recast
to [X]
hither here 
hitherto  Recast
before [X] / up until now / previously
ilk type
in the event that if
incumbent (upon one to) must / should / need to
latter-day recent 
moneys, monies money
notwithstanding Recast
despite / although / even if / though / subject to / however / but / still / yet
nought nothing
oftentimes  often
respective(ly) Recast or omit
save that Recast
except / unless
shall must / will
such Recast or omit
the / a / that / all / every
the present Recast or omit
now / today
the said the / that
thence then / from there / from that point
thereafter Recast or omit
afterwards / after [X] / then
thereby Recast or omit
by [X]
therefrom Recast or omit
from [X]
therein lies (eg, the answer) that is
thus / thusly in such a way / as a result / consequently
unbeknownst to unknown to / without [X] knowing
whatever Recast or omit
whatsoever Recast
of any kind
whence from which
whereabouts of where (someone/something) is
wherefore why
wheresoever Recast or omit
whereupon and then
wherewithal the means to
whilst while 
whomsoever Recast or omit
whoever
whys and wherefores reasons / explanations
wont like / prefer

Common archaic words used in legislation

Shall

“Shall” is used to impose a duty or prohibition but it is also used to indicate the future tense. This can lead to confusion. Use “must” rather than “shall” when imposing a duty that must be performed because it is clear and definite, and commonly understood.

In declarative expressions, you can often replace “shall” with the present tense:

Example 4
cross.gif A parent shall be entitled to appear. 
tick.gif A parent is entitled to appear.
   
cross.gif It shall be unlawful. 
tick.gif It is unlawful.
   
cross.gif A person shall be a resident to be eligible. 
tick.gif A person must be a resident to be eligible.
tick.gif A person is eligible only if they are a resident.
tick.gif Only a person who is a resident is eligible.
   
cross.gif No person shall do x, y, and z. 
tick.gif No person may do x, y, and z.

Occasionally “will” is an appropriate substitute for “shall”:

Example 5
cross.gif A seafarer with monocular vision shall pass the minimum standard under regulation 15 if… 
tick.gif A seafarer with monocular vision will pass the minimum standard under regulation 15 if....

Such

“Such” is an archaic term in legislation. It is problematic because it may be unclear what it refers to. It can also produce a “starchy” effect when overused.

You can often omit “such” or replace it with “the”, “a”, “that”, “all”, or “every”, or a variant:

Example 6
cross.gif ... such other organisations as the Minister thinks appropriate… 
tick.gif ... the other organisations the Minister thinks appropriate...

Archaic grammar rules

You may be familiar with these. You may even follow some of them, believing they’re crucial to good writing.

These prescriptive edicts have been handed down from the age of Jane Austen and perpetuated by grammar sticklers. Our teachers, those who cared about “correct” language, drilled them into us as they themselves had been drilled a generation before.

But today these rules are mostly redundant.

There are some common grammar myths:

1. Never split an infinitive

Plain language allows us to boldly go down this track without it sounding odd to modern ears.

The infinitive is the basic form of a verb (for example, go or sing). The infinitive often has the word “to” in front of it.

2. Never end a sentence on a preposition

Winston Churchill satirised this nearly a century ago with:

ARCHAIC: “the type of errant pedantry up with which I will not put

MODERN: “the type of errant pedantry I won’t put up with

A preposition is a word that shows where something is in relation to something else, or when something happened (for example, under, during, through, with).

Plain language allows us to end a sentence on a preposition.

3. Never start a sentence with a conjunction (and, but, so, or yet)

We do it all the time in spoken English. But no one notices. Yet we’ve been doing this for more than half a century. So it can’t be that bad.

Starting a sentence with a conjunction is very useful in most forms of writing for breaking long sentences.

However, this doesn’t apply to legislation. That is, don’t start a sentence with a conjunction in legislation.

4. Use whom correctly

“Whom” is traditionally the correct form of “relative pronoun” in the “accusative case” (for the “object” of a “clause”) or in the “dative case” (“indirect object”). “Who” applies to the “nominative case” or “subject”. However, these archaic grammar rules may usually be overlooked in favour of plain language.

Luckily, who is now acceptable in all “cases”:

ARCHAIC:  We can choose with whom we share our bubble.

MODERN:  We can choose who we share our bubble with.

ARCHAIC:  You should know to whom to report in an emergency.

MODERN: You should know who to report to in an emergency.

ARCHAIC:  Marry the one whom you love.

MODERN:  Marry the one who you love.

You can also omit the who when it’s the object of the verb:

MODERN:  Marry the one you love.
 

Use who every time and you can’t go wrong.

5. Use the subjunctive mood (to express something desired or imagined)

This grammatical mood had many applications in “correct” English of the 19th century based on Latin scholarship. It exists in many different forms (see below), but very few are relevant today. The subjunctive is also overly fussy and difficult to execute correctly. The plain language approach is: don’t bother with it.

ARCHAICWould that one could afford to be optimistic… 

MODERN:  If only we could afford to be optimistic…

ARCHAICHad she not pulled out the plug in time…

MODERN:  If she had not pulled out the plug in time…

ARCHAICIf it weren’t for the fact that / were it not for the fact that this creature died out millions of years ago…

MODERNIf this creature had not died out millions of years ago…

ARCHAIC: Once you start to notice these, be they in newspaper articles or politicians’ speeches…

MODERN: Once you start to notice these, whether in newspaper articles or politicians’ speeches…

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